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Know the best practices when encountering cougars

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

Cougars are found throughout the state, often in mountains, foothills, or canyon areas, but sometimes they wander into urban neighborhoods. KPCW has tips on what to do if you see one.

Cougars, mountain lions, pumas—they’re all the same thing; large predatory wild cats. They follow the mule deer population, typically hunting and feeding at dawn and dusk.

According to Division of Wildlife Resources Game Animals Coordinator Darren DeBloois, trends show the cougar population is steadily growing. And not to alarm, but a cougar will often see or hear you before you know it’s nearby.

“They're shy; they’re cryptic. They’re good at hiding and staying out of view of people, and that's how they make a living, by sneaking up on prey and ambushing; it’s not aware they're there. So, they're really good at it. People are not on their menu. Most of the times when we see cougar conflict with people, it’s the wrong place, wrong time type of thing, people just run into them.”

DeBloois said if you’re hiking and smell something dead like a rotting carcass or see a dead animal with stuff piled on top, don’t hang around and investigate.

“Cougar kills are distinctive in that if it's something that they can't eat all at once, they will cache it, so they'll take that animal, what’s left of it, and cover it up. If you watch a domestic cat, how they kind of bury things. Cougars do the same thing.”

DeBloois said it’s best to avoid human-cougar conflicts by hiking or running with a large dog or groups of people. Making noise and avoiding headphones is recommended, especially if when alone on the trail. He added that motion detection lighting can work for homes near cougar habitats.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

DeBloois said if a doorbell camera catches a cougar visiting at night, it may be a one-off. But if a cougar is sticking around or a pet goes missing, the DWR wants to hear about it.

“We do have a fairly high cougar population, especially when we're talking about Salt Lake County and Park City. Very little cougar hunting goes on, and I don't think we've seen a cougar in the harvest in those units for several years. The doorbell camera technologies got to the point where a lot of people have it. And so, it may seem like there are a lot more lions around when maybe you're just capturing images of lions that have always been there.”

A rare cougar-human encounter occurred in Provo Canyon with a trail runner a couple of years ago. A video of the episode went viral, and DeBloois said the runner did all the right things to protect himself.

Important safety tips include never running from a cougar and always maintaining eye contact with it while standing tall, making yourself look bigger by raising and waving your arms or a jacket above your head. Never crouch or squat down or turn your back on the lion because it will instinctively consider you as prey.

If attacked, DeBloois said to fight back, protecting your head and neck.

Utah DWR wants you to report a cougar if it has killed something in a neighborhood or yard, if it exhibits aggressive behavior, or appears several times on a home security camera.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.